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Israel examining heart inflammation cases in people who received Pfizer COVID shot

Author: Reuters
This post originally appeared on Stock Market News

Israel examining heart inflammation cases in people who received Pfizer COVID shot© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Vials labelled “COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine” and a syringe are seen in front of the Pfizer logo in this illustration

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Health Ministry said on Sunday it is examining a small number of cases of heart inflammation in people who had received Pfizer (NYSE:)’s COVID-19 vaccine, though it has not yet drawn any conclusions.

Pfizer said it has not observed a higher rate of the condition than would normally be expected in the general population.

Israel’s pandemic response coordinator, Nachman Ash, said that a preliminary study showed “tens of incidents” of myocarditis occurring among more than 5 million vaccinated people, primarily after the second dose.

Ash said it was unclear whether this was unusually high and whether it was connected to the vaccine.

Most of the cases were reported among people up to age 30.

“The Health Ministry is currently examining whether there is an excess in morbidity (disease rate) and whether it can be attributed to the vaccines,” Ash said.

Ash, who spoke about the issue in a radio interview and during a news conference, referred to it as a “question mark”, and emphasized that the Health Ministry has yet to draw any conclusions.

Determining a link, he said, would be difficult because myocarditis, a condition that often goes away without complications, can be caused by a variety of viruses and a similar number of cases were reported in previous years.

Pfizer, asked by Reuters about the review, said it is in regular contact with Israel’s Health Ministry to review data on its vaccine.

The company said it “is aware of the Israeli observations of myocarditis that occurred predominantly in a population of young men who received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine”.

“Adverse events are regularly and thoroughly reviewed and we have not observed a higher rate of myocarditis than what would be expected in the general population. A causal link to the vaccine has not been established,” the company said.

“There is no evidence at this time to conclude that myocarditis is a risk associated with the use of Pfizer/BNT COVID-19 vaccine.”

Israel has been a world leader in its vaccination rollout, with close to 60% of its 9.3 million population having received the Pfizer vaccine. Its nationwide database has already showed the vaccine to be highly effective in preventing the symptoms and severe illness associated with COVID-19.

Since January, shortly after the vaccine campaign began, daily infections dropped from a peak of more than 10,000 to just 129 before the weekend.

Nadav Davidovitch, director of the school of public health at Israel’s Ben Gurion University, said that even if a correlation between the myocarditis cases and the vaccine were established, it did not appear to be serious enough to stop administering the vaccine.

“It’s a situation that should be looked into, and we need to wait for a final report, but in an interim analysis it seems the risk of getting sick from COVID-19 is much higher than from the vaccine’s adverse events, and the risk of peri/myo-carditis following the vaccine is low and temporary,” he said.

Puerto Rico Just Had Its ‘Worst Moment’ for Covid-19 Cases

Author Edmy Ayala and Patricia Mazzei
This post originally appeared on NYT > U.S. News

SAN JUAN, P.R. — Throughout the pandemic, Dr. Víctor Ramos, a pediatrician, had not seen more than two Covid-19 patients hospitalized at the same time at San Jorge Children & Women’s Hospital in San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital, where he works nights. When he left after one of his shifts a few days ago, the hospital’s pediatric patient count had grown to 10.

“We had never seen that,” he said.

Some children were dehydrated after the coronavirus gave them high fevers, Dr. Ramos said, but others had the inflammatory syndrome that afflicts some children with Covid-19. One of the children hospitalized with severe Covid was just 3 months old, he said.

Puerto Rico has experienced its worst coronavirus outbreak of the pandemic over the past five weeks, with an explosive growth in cases exceeding records that had been set in December. Only this week did the numbers stop rising, giving the territory its first respite since the surge began in mid-March.

Behind the rise, experts say, was a confluence of factors, including the arrival of variants that probably made the virus more contagious right when people weary of staying home and hopeful about vaccines began to let their guard down, returning to work in person and shopping and dining indoors. Tourists poured in for spring break season. People gathered to celebrate Holy Week, a time when many are off work.

“The government relaxed restrictions around January and February — it opened the economy completely,” said Mayor Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz of Villalba, a town in south-central Puerto Rico. “This gave the virus opportunities to spread that it didn’t have a year ago. Now the virus has the opportunity to spread in all places.”

The results were staggering. In early April, the island went from averaging about 200 new cases a day to about 800, according to a New York Times database. In the week leading up to April 13, more than 7,100 cases were identified, a record. A two-week period this month saw cases grow by a remarkable 151 percent. At its peak, the positivity rate reached about 14 percent, according to the Puerto Rico Department of Health.

In response, scientists and physicians like Dr. Ramos, who is the president of the Puerto Rico College of Physicians and Surgeons, begged the public to follow masking and social distancing rules and urged elected officials to tighten pandemic restrictions. Hospitals still have bed capacity, Dr. Ramos said, but doctors and nurses are stretched thin. For years, Puerto Rico has lost many medical professionals to better-paying jobs in the states, leaving fewer of them to tend to the virus on the island.

“Everyone is exhausted,” Dr. Ramos said.

Jorge Manuel Rivera, 43, has seen it firsthand: His wife has been hospitalized in a San Juan hospital since late March. She does not have Covid-19 — she had surgery and has been in and out of intensive care — but the facility has been so full of Covid patients that there has not always been room for her in the I.C.U., he said.

“You can tell that they are very, very overwhelmed,” he said.

Mr. Rivera tested positive for the coronavirus two weeks ago and lost his sense of smell.

“There are too many people who are not aware of what is happening,” he said. “You can read the numbers and statistics, but you don’t understand it if you’re not there.”

This month, the administration of Gov. Pedro R. Pierluisi shut down in-person instruction at schools because of the virus surge. Officials pushed up the start of a nightly curfew to 10 p.m. from midnight — it is the only remaining blanket curfew in any state or territory — and reduced indoor capacity to 30 percent from 50 percent for restaurants and businesses. Some mayors have adopted additional restrictions, including closing beaches. Masks remain mandatory in public places across the island.

Starting on April 28, travelers who do not show proof of a negative Covid-19 test upon their arrival will be fined $ 300 unless they submit a test result within 48 hours. (The previous rules allowed travelers the option of isolating for 10 days if they could not provide a negative test result. Some have been arrested after breaking quarantine orders.)

Scenes of tourists behaving badly — flouting mask orders, crowding local hangouts and refusing to heed demands that they respect pandemic rules — have routinely made headlines. But contact tracing suggests many of the new infections have come not directly from tourists, but from Puerto Ricans going to work, restaurants and shops in person, public health experts say.

Mr. Pierluisi, who took office in January, has resisted pressure for a more stringent partial lockdown endorsed by opposition lawmakers and recommended by his own coalition of experts. The coalition said malls and restaurants were not essential, signaling that they could be temporarily closed. The governor said in a news conference this week that the recent measures he did take were working but needed more time to fully take effect.

“The situation is stabilizing,” he said. “There must be a very measured, very prudent approach to these types of decisions.”

His predecessor, Wanda Vázquez, imposed strict rules early on in the pandemic, ordering the country’s first lockdown. That helped Puerto Rico avoid a drastic increase in cases for many months but also dearly cost the economy. Long lines formed to receive unemployment benefits.

The latest outbreak can be managed with more gradual measures, Mr. Pierluisi said, citing the existence of virus treatments, a contact tracing system in Puerto Rico’s municipalities and the availability of vaccines.

About 1.65 million people — about 31 percent of the population — have received at least one vaccine dose, according to a Times database, which relies on statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Carlos Mellado López, the Puerto Rico health secretary, said in an interview that the Health Department estimated the number was actually higher.

But one public health message — get your shot — might have blunted another — be careful about the rapidly spreading virus — said Mónica Feliú-Mojer, the director of communications at Ciencia Puerto Rico, a nonprofit group that supports scientists and their research.

“So much public attention turned to vaccination,” she said. “The moment you stop hearing about all the cases, you stop hearing about the importance of preventing contagion. The numbers have been worrying for more than a month, epidemiologists were sounding the alarm and nobody was paying attention.”

The testing rate had dropped sharply before doubling in recent weeks, Dr. Mellado said. The health department is working to send more tests directly to primary care physicians to test people in their offices, free of charge.

Outside of public testing sites, private labs in Puerto Rico still require a doctor’s order to conduct a gold-standard polymerase chain reaction test to detect the coronavirus, creating a barrier for socially vulnerable populations to find out if they are infected, said Melissa Marzán-Rodríguez, an epidemiologist and assistant professor of public health at Ponce Health Sciences University.

“The situation has deteriorated so much over the past few weeks,” she said. “It might be the worst moment we’ve been through this past year.”

Her team is using a federal grant to train community members to help people overcome barriers to testing and vaccinations. One of them is Sister Faustina Rodríguez, a nun whose community organization has identified mostly older people living alone or in poor conditions in rural areas near Ponce, in southern Puerto Rico, who need basic aid such as masks and hand soap.

“We went to one woman’s home and all she had was the same mask she’s been wearing since last year,” Sister Faustina said.

There is also resistance to mask-wearing, testing — “Some people think it’s going to hurt, up their nose,” she said — and vaccinations.

“They don’t believe in vaccines, and the Johnson & Johnson situation has only made it worse,” Sister Faustina said, referring to the pause of that vaccine to study whether it causes blood clots. “Or they say, ‘Why should I get vaccinated if I can still catch it or have strong side effects?’” (She tells them she got the shot herself and felt fine.)

Lucía Santana Benítez, 52, who lives in a public housing complex in San Juan and runs a nonprofit group to feed her neighbors, caught the coronavirus last year, as did her son and husband. She described it as “bad, bad, bad, bad — I spent a week sweating, with a fever, pain. I couldn’t even bathe.”

She initially did not want to get vaccinated, though she was promoting the vaccine in her community. But she decided to get the shot so she could visit her children and grandchildren, who live in Florida, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

“I’m being a responsible grandmother,” Ms. Santana said.

Johnson & Johnson vaccine meeting: Blood clot cases up to 15, with 3 deaths

Author CNNWire

This post originally appeared on ABC13 RSS Feed

Johnson & Johnson vaccine meeting

WASHINGTON — Vaccine advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are meeting Friday to discuss how to move forward with Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen coronavirus vaccine.

There are now 15 confirmed reports of blood clots with low platelet counts following the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, with a dozen of the clots occurring in veins near the surface of the brain, a condition called “cerebral venous sinus thrombosis,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The number of these rare reactions is more than double of the six cases initially reported that prompted federal regulators to recommend a temporary suspension. The 15 cases are out of the nearly 8 million J&J shots given.

Dr. Tom Shimabukuro, a member of the CDC’s task force on COVID-19 vaccines, told the panel that all of the 15 cases were women. Most of them were in their 30s, although the age range was 18-59. Three of the women died.

Dr. Michael Streiff, an expert with the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said he thinks outcomes could be improved if people are aware and seek help right away.

Many of the women tried to treat their symptoms at home for several days, unaware of the severity of the situation.

Streiff said it’s also clear that doctors shouldn’t treat the condition with heparin, a common used blood thinner, and can treat the complications with alternative therapies.

“I think with education we can improve outcomes of these patients,” Steiff said.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is expected to vote later on updated recommendations for use of the vaccine.

The blood clotting disorder is characterized by a rare type of blood clot in the brain — and possibly other large blood clots — along with a low number of blood-clotting cells called platelets. Some blood specialists have said they believe it’s caused by an unusual immune reaction that targets platelets, causing them to glob together into clots.

“We are very much encouraged by the fact that our safety reporting systems are working,” Dr. Shimi Sharief, senior health adviser with Oregon’s health authority, told reporters in a briefing.

She noted the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing and killing people.

“This is still extremely rare,” she said — noting that seven cases of blood clots had been reported out of nearly seven million J&J vaccines given, and two of those cases had been fatal.
ACIP will also hear from two officials of Johnson & Johnson.
Members of ACIP will consider the potential risks of the vaccine as opposed to the risk of catching coronavirus. Blood clot specialists have told CNN the risk of developing blood clots of all sorts from coronavirus infection are much higher than the risks seen in people who got the vaccine.

AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been linked to TTS as well. The World Health Organization and European medical regulators have said the benefits of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is not yet authorized in the US, outweigh any potential risks.

Earlier this week, Dr. William Schaffner, a non-voting ACIP member and infectious diseases professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told CNN that ACIP could recommend that use of the vaccine resume with no changes, or the committee could recommend that the US stop using the J&J vaccine altogether.

Schaffner said it’s more likely that ACIP will recommend that use of the vaccine resume with a warning about possible adverse effects — and potentially, advice to the highest-risk populations to steer clear of this vaccine altogether.

Covid cases map: Global rates SURGE as UK nears freedom – where are cases highest?

Two countries are shouldering most of the case burden, Brazil and India.

The nations, both in the developing world and lacking the vaccine resources of other countries, have vast and densely packed populations.

They have covered approximately 4.5 and 8.3 percent of their people with jabs, respectively while beating back daily case increases of 200,000 and 30,000.

India is now home to the second most significant outbreak after taking the unenviable position from its South American counterpart in March.

Between April 6 and 10, a total of 2,634,923 cases were recorded – and 14,983 deaths.

This article originally appeared on Daily Express :: Life and Style Feed
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Texas coronavirus cases haven't surged since Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the mask order. Experts warn it's too soon to celebrate.

More than a month has passed since Gov. Greg Abbott ended virtually all statewide restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Nationwide, new coronavirus cases are on the rise as new variants of the virus spread. And about four-fifths of Texans are not yet fully vaccinated.

But at least for now, the most dire predictions of a new major wave of cases in Texas have not come true, prompting a mix of theories from public health experts.

Those experts caution that a major increase in cases could still come and it may still be too early to tell whether Abbott’s decisions to lift the statewide mask mandate and allow businesses to fully reopen could prompt a new wave of infections. Still, daily new cases and the positivity rate have leveled off over the past month, while deaths and hospitalization have gone down substantially.

Experts point out that vaccination is ramping up, many businesses are still requiring masks and there are unique factors impacting individual metrics — like a drop in demand for testing that is driving down raw case numbers.

They also emphasize that, especially at this point in the pandemic, a stabilization of such metrics, or even a modest decline, is not exactly cause for celebration.

“I think we could’ve been even lower at this point in time,” if not for Abbott’s latest decisions, said Dr. Luis Ostrosky, an infectious disease specialist at UTHealth’s McGovern Medical School in Houston. “The fact that we’re sort of stable is not necessarily good news — because we’re stable at a very high level. It’s like everybody saying you’re at a stable cruising speed — but at 100 miles per hour.”

Abbott’s decision to end most statewide restrictions went into effect 35 days ago, on March 10. The seven-day average for daily new confirmed cases was 3,020 on that day; it was 2,456 on Tuesday. The seven-day average of the state’s positivity rate — the ratio of cases to tests — was 6.24% on March 10; it was 5.89% on Monday. (The latest positivity-rate figures are considered preliminary and subject to recalculation as more test results come in from the date in question.)

Deaths and hospitalizations, which lag new cases, have seen steeper drops since March 10. The seven-day average of new daily deaths was 187 on March 10; it was 64 on Tuesday. There were 4,556 Texans hospitalized with the virus on March 10; there were 3,002 on Tuesday.

The four key metrics are way down from peaks earlier in the year, when the state was seeing daily new caseloads approaching 20,000, a positivity rate that went above 20%, hospitalizations that topped 14,000 and weeks of more than 300 deaths per day.

At the same time, vaccinations have climbed steadily as the state has expanded eligibility, opening up to everyone age 16 and older on March 29. The percentage of fully vaccinated Texans more than doubled from March 10 to Monday, when it was 1 in 5 Texans.

“Overall, it’s great news,” said state Rep. Chris Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman who has been critical of Abbott’s decisions throughout the pandemic. “I’m very glad that so far the governor’s decisions have not resulted in an increase in cases.”

“Clearly the massive investment in vaccines and the improved distribution of vaccines across the country since President Biden came into office is having a tremendously positive impact on protecting people from COVID-19,” Turner added.

Despite the numbers in Texas, it has been an open question as to how long it takes after the lifting of restrictions to see a spike in the data. The incubation period for the virus — the time between when someone is exposed to it and when they start showing symptoms — is believed to be two to 14 days, and not everyone immediately stopped wearing masks and visiting fully reopened businesses on March 10.

Meanwhile, the rise of more transmissible variants across the country has added another threat. Average daily infections rose by almost 7% nationwide over the past week as officials race to vaccinate people as quickly as possible. Those efforts might be hampered in the short term after Texas paused the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine so federal health authorities could review six reports of blood clotting among 6.8 million doses nationwide.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, was asked in a TV interview last week about Texas’ numbers and gave an uncertain response about what was driving them at the moment. Speaking with MSNBC, he said “it can be confusing because you may see a lag and a delay because often you have to wait a few weeks before you see the effect of what you’re doing right now.”

“We’ve been fooled before by situations where people begin to open up, nothing happens and then all of a sudden, several weeks later, things start exploding on you,” Fauci said. “So we’ve got to be careful we don’t prematurely judge that.”

Until recently, Abbott has been restrained in openly touting the Texas trend lines, instead focusing much of his celebratory public messaging on vaccination progress.

“We absolutely are not declaring victory at this time,” Abbott told Fox News on Sunday. “We remain very vigilant and guarded and proactive in our response, but there’s simple math behind the reason why we continue to have success,” he added, citing the combination of increasing vaccinations and the “acquired immunity” among Texans who have already had the virus and recovered from it.

However, Abbott went on to make a dubious claim: that the state is “very close” to herd immunity, or the point at which enough people have been vaccinated or have already become infected — and recovered — to protect the rest of the population. Abbott said that despite acknowledging in the same response that he does not know what the herd immunity threshold is for the virus, an uncertainty echoed by the public health community.

Fauci has said herd immunity against the coronavirus could require as much as 90% of the population to be vaccinated. Ostrosky said “classically in epidemiology, we talk about herd immunity in the 60 to 80% range.”

In any case, experts agree that Texas is not anywhere near herd immunity. As of Monday, just 20.1% of Texans had been fully vaccinated and 9.72% had tested positive for the virus. There could be overlap between the two groups — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people who had the disease get a vaccine.

In the meantime, though, public health officials are keeping a close eye on the core metrics and whether they creep up as more Texans take advantage of the end of the mask mandate and businesses reopening at full capacity. Ostrosky acknowledged that so far, the numbers are “not what we were expecting.”

“The question is how come and the answer in my mind is vaccines,” Ostrosky said. “I think we’re making really good headway with the vaccination program. We were sort of aggressive moving through the stages [of eligibility].”

“I think our saving grace was the vaccines despite the not-so-good choices that some of our fellow Texans are making” with regard to practices like masking, Ostrosky added.

Jaquelin Dudley, the associate director of the LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease at the University of Texas at Austin, said the underreporting of previous cases could be masking the extent to which the state’s population is already immune. Combined with the vaccination effort, “we’re definitely impairing the ability of the virus to spread” at this juncture in the pandemic, she said.

She and other experts also cited anecdotal evidence that most businesses, especially in the state’s major metropolitan centers, are still requiring masks despite the lack of statewide mandate.

“I think it’s too early to drop mask mandates, and that’s really been left up to the individual businesses,” Dudley said. “Certainly the places that I know of are still requiring masks, and I’m sure that’s helping.”

One of the strongest arguments to keep wearing masks is the rise of variants, Dudley said. There are currently five “variants of concern” in the United States, according to the CDC, which is studying how effectively current vaccines address them.

When it comes to steeper drops in deaths, Dudley said she thinks the state has “just got a lot better about treating the infection” after confronting the pandemic for over a year.

Ben King, a clinical assistant professor and epidemiologist at the University of Houston College of Medicine, said the downward trend in both deaths and hospitalizations could reflect Texas’ prioritization of the highest-risk population — the elderly — for immunization.

Both Texas and Florida made national headlines late last year for bucking CDC guidance and prioritizing older people over essential workers in their vaccine rollouts. And Abbott further prioritized older Texans with his Save Our Seniors initiative, which has deployed National Guard troops to help vaccinate homebound seniors. Over 100 counties have taken part in the the program, which has been underway for six weeks.

There are also simple statistical truths behind the latest numbers. Since earlier this year, the number of tests administered has dropped, and with it, the number of cases identified. The falloff in testing is not for a lack of supply, according to experts, but due to an apparent lack of demand as Texans fatigued by the virus see less of a need to get tested in the pandemic’s final stages.

While the positivity rate has remained stable, experts said the end of the pandemic is especially not the time to let up on testing. King said Texas’ plan to provide state-licensed summer camps with COVID-19 rapid antigen tests is “exactly the way we need to be thinking.”

“We want to see testing go way up, but we also want to see cases go way down,” said King, who agreed with Ostrosky that any flatlining of metrics at this point is “not what we need.”

“We have to be crushing [the curve] at this point,” King said. Abbott’s latest decisions “could be just stretching out the flatness of the curve, which just makes it harder to get to zero, which is obviously what we all want.”

Experts also point out that the changing of seasons could be keeping the numbers relatively low. As the weather gets warmer, people are gathering more outside — and not inside, where the virus is more likely to spread.

The experts, though, are pleading with the public to still take the pandemic seriously, even as the numbers look good and the statewide restrictions fall further in to the rearview.

“If we don’t focus — and all we’re asking for is two more months … — we’re really gonna lose all that ground we gained,” Ostrosky said.

Disclosure: UTHealth and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

Patrick Svitek
This article originally appeared on The Texas Tribune: Main Feed

Michigan’s Virus Cases Are Out of Control, Putting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in a Bind

There is no single reason Michigan has been hit so hard in recent weeks, though the latest surge has been partly attributed to the B.1.1.7 variant that was originally identified in Britain and is widespread in the state. Recent infections suggest that small social gatherings were driving case increases, events that are hard to target with government restrictions. Children are also accounting for a higher percentage of cases, with spring break trips and youth sporting events emerging as points of concern.

Several hospitals in Michigan delayed some elective procedures[1] this past week because a wave of coronavirus patients has stressed their resources. Smaller, rural hospitals struggled to find urban hospitals that could accept their coronavirus patients who needed intensive-care beds. One doctor in Lansing described admitting five such patients in a five-hour period.

“It’s hard for me to have hope when I don’t see the basic public health precautions being implemented and sustained,” said Debra Furr-Holden, a Michigan State University epidemiologist whom Ms. Whitmer appointed to the state’s Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities. “If we continue the way we’ve been going, we’re going to continue to get what we’ve been getting, which is these ebbs and flows and these spikes. It will be a vicious cycle and the vaccines will not be able to keep pace.”

The balance between politics and public health, never simple, has become even more volatile as the pandemic enters a second year. Residents are exhausted, business owners are reeling and, unlike last year, no other state is seeing a similar surge.

There is also reason for optimism that distinguishes this virus surge from those that came before: One in three Michigan residents has started the vaccination process, and one in five is fully immunized. With older residents swiftly getting vaccines, health officials say that most of the people who are infected with the coronavirus now are younger than 65, a less vulnerable population. And so Ms. Whitmer, who received her first shot on Tuesday, has pointed to vaccines — rather than new lockdowns — as the way out of this moment.

“I want to get back to normal as much as everyone else. I’m tired of this,” Ms. Whitmer said in a news conference on Friday where she defended her strategy for the weeks ahead. “But the variants in Michigan that we are facing right now won’t be contained if we don’t ramp up vaccinations as soon as possible.”

Ms. Whitmer, whose administration rolled back restrictions last month[2] when virus cases were relatively low, pressed President Biden in a Thursday night phone call for extra vaccines to address the surge. Mr. Biden declined, and the administration said on Friday that it would continue allocating vaccines based on adult population.


  1. ^ delayed some elective procedures (www.freep.com)
  2. ^ rolled back restrictions last month (www.michigan.gov)

Julie Bosman and Mitch Smith

Covid world map: which countries have the most coronavirus vaccinations, cases and deaths?

Since first being recorded in late 2019 in China, the Covid-19 coronavirus has spread around the world, and been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

Dozens of countries have recorded over 1,000 deaths, while case counts now stand at well over one million in some countries. However, differences in testing mean that the number of cases may be understated for some countries.

How is the disease progressing around the world?

Obviously, larger countries tend to have higher numbers both of cases and of deaths. But there are many other factors in play, such as the demographic profiles of the countries; countries with ageing populations may be hit harder because the disease is more dangerous to older people.

Case rates – which show the rate of daily cases per million people in any country – show how many European countries faced new highs in infection during the winter.

The disease has caused tens of thousands of deaths in many countries, hitting the US, Brazil, India, Mexico and the UK with particular cruelty in terms of total deaths.

And while most countries experienced the first wave of infections in a similar fashion, albeit at different times, new variants are – for now – changing the way different areas are suffering from further waves.

Is the world rolling out the vaccine fast enough?

At last in December 2020, a number of countries began to approve vaccines and begin vaccination programmes.

Many countries rolled out their vaccine programmes in earnest through January, although concerns have been raised over the availability of vaccines in developing nations.

Johns Hopkins University publishes cases and deaths data for most countries in the world (a notable exception being North Korea, which claims to have had none). But JHU concedes that it collects data from many sources, some of which disagree with each other. Even where the collection is less contentious there are significant differences in the ways countries test, and in the way they report cases and deaths. Belgium, for instance, attributes deaths to Covid-19 if the disease is a suspected cause, even if no test has been carried out.

Cases and case rates by country

Deaths and death rates by country

Due to the unprecedented and ongoing nature of the coronavirus outbreak, this article is being regularly updated to ensure that it reflects the current situation at the date of publication. Any significant corrections made to this or previous versions of the article will continue to be footnoted in line with Guardian editorial policy.

Pablo Gutiérrez, Seán Clarke and Ashley Kirk

Covid: Public Health England declares more cases of ‘variant of concern’ in UK

As a third wave crushes over South America – and the EU is seeing a resurgence of Covid cases – the Brazilian variant of concern, P1, is rising in numbers across the UK. Public Health England (PHE) has sourced the worrying strain in the West Midlands and Haringey, north London. Amidst travel restrictions, both Covid cases have been linked to international travel to Brazil.
The case in West Midlands follows the infected person’s arrival at Birmingham Airport.

As part of the managed hotel quarantine, when the person tested positive for the virus, they had to self isolate.

“The London case was picked up through surge testing,” added PHE, and as a response, surge testing will be stepped up in the affected area.

“Contact tracing teams have undertaken a comprehensive investigation to identify any further contacts,” PHE said.

READ MORE: Blood clot symptoms: What are the symptoms of a blood clot?

“PHE and international partners continue to monitor the situation closely,” the organisation emphasised.

What does this mean for the UK vaccination programmme?

Researchers from the University of Oxford have said that “the P1 ‘Brazilian’ strain may be less resistant” to the vaccine than first feared.

This conclusion arises from a yet-to-be peer-reviewed study from the team at Oxford University, as reported by The Independent.

The research team examined the impact of natural and vaccine-induced antibodies on different coronavirus strains, including P1.

Although the vaccine didn’t work as well against the variants as the original coronavirus strain, it was still effective.

The university commented: “[This] data suggest that natural and vaccine-induced antibodies can still neutralise these variants, but at lower levels.

“Importantly, the P1 ‘Brazilian’ strain may be less resistant to these antibodies than first feared.”

Other strains tested were the Kent and South Africa strain – two other variants of concern.

All three coronavirus strains were mainly neutralised by the Oxford or Pfizer vaccines.

While there may be a hiccup in the supply of Covid vaccines come April, the UK Government has said we are still on target.

Meanwhile, there has been international concern over the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab due to blood clots.

However, European countries have now resumed vaccinations with the AstraZeneca vaccine after the European Medicines Agency said it was safe.

Foreign travel ‘extremely unlikely’ due to rise in European COVID cases experts warn

Plans for the UK’s roadmap out of lockdown could well change due to the rise in COVID cases across Europe. Experts have warned this makes holidays abroad “extremely unlikely”.
Several European countries have recorded increases in the number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, with some nations having to enter new lockdowns to curb the spread.

France has tried to avoid imposing more lockdowns, but the French government has been forced to change direction.

This week, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced 16 of the country’s regions, as well as Paris, will enter into a new lockdown from midnight on Friday, March 19.

This lockdown is due to last at least a month.

READ MORE: Summer holidays 2021: How will travel work?

The professor spoke on Times Radio this morning, March 20.

He said: “From what I understand, quite a lot of that is the emergence of the strain that came from the UK, the B117 strain, which is more transmissible, which is the same strain that’s still here now.

“I think it just shows that the lockdown in the UK is necessary and we need to be careful as we release and to watch the figures because this shows the potential for cases to shoot up.”

When asked if another wave of COVID cases was possible in the UK, Mr Hayward said that it was “possible, likely even”.

He said: “I guess the difference is that another wave will cause substantially fewer deaths and hospitalisations because of high levels of vaccination across the sorts of people who would have ended up in hospital or unfortunately dying if they haven’t been vaccinated.

“So the consequences of another wave are less. I think the challenge is, of course, we don’t know exactly how much less.”

Boris Johnson has previously promised Britons that they can hope to holiday abroad from May 17, but Mr Hayward said that travel is “obviously” going to be affected following the news of the rise in European COVID cases.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the scientific pandemic influenza group on modelling, a SAGE sub-group, also spoke about foreign travel on the radio this morning.

Speaking on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, he said: “I think that international travel this summer is, for the average holidaymaker, sadly I think extremely unlikely.

“I think we are running a real risk if we do start to have lots of people going overseas in July and August because of the potential for bringing more of these new variants back into the country,” Dr Tildesley added.

“What is really dangerous is if we jeopardise our vaccination campaign by having these variants where the vaccines don’t work as effectively spreading more rapidly.”

As well as many parts of France entering into a new lockdown and schools and shops being closed in Italy, non-essential shops and cultural venues have closed for three weeks in Poland.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that it is likely that the country would need to apply an “emergency brake” and reimpose lockdown restrictions as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country.